NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Protecting Intellectual Property

December 5, 2002

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick is reportedly considering a move to recognize the right of any developing country to appropriate a patent or import generic drugs if that country determines it is facing a health crisis.

Critics are aghast at the idea.

  • They point out that some people who would not condone the theft of physical property somehow go soft at the prospect of theft of intellectual property.
  • In many industries specializing in intellectual property -- the drug industry is an example -- the initial cost to create a new product is high, but the marginal cost of producing that drug or other product in volumes is low.
  • If people were allowed to copy new intellectual property and sell it at the marginal cost, few would spend the requisite time and dollars to create new products because they could never recover their initial costs.
  • So weakening legal protections of intellectual property would mean that society would get little real innovation -- and virtually no economic growth.

This applies not only to the pharmaceuticals industry, but also to the creation of new music, art, film and scientific inventions.

The Founding Fathers were well aware of the need to protect intellectual property from expropriation and gave Congress, in the Constitution, the authority "to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

Congress has implemented this provision by granting protection to a patent for 20 years, and the duration of the life of an author plus 70 years for a copyright.

Source: Merrill Matthews Jr. (Council for Affordable Health Insurance), "To Boost Economic Growth, U.S. Must Protect Its Ideas," Investor's Business Daily, December 4, 2002.


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